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The 15 Best Caramel Extract Substitutes

Nothing beats the warm and sweet taste of caramel in your dessert. Caramel extract goes a long way to create a flavorful delight. However, sometimes it’s too expensive, and other times it is impossible to find it in stores.

If you need to substitute caramel extract in your recipe, caramel syrup and caramel liqueur are the best choices. You can also use caramel fudge or butterscotch, but make sure to melt them first. Choose maple extract and date syrup if you are open to healthier but not caramel-based options.

Keep reading to learn how to replace caramel extract by using different ingredients. We will discuss options that you have at hand and are easy to make. Moreover, we will compare the differences in flavor and texture to get the best and sweetest result. 

A jar of caramel extract with a spoon

1. Caramel Syrup

Caramel syrup is an ingredient similar to caramel extract in texture and flavor. It owes its liquid texture to the fact that it is cooked at a lower temperature when compared to other caramel sweets. However, the method of preparation makes it less concentrated and sweet. It doesn’t contain alcohol, so it doesn’t lose its intensity while cooked.

The syrup is much thicker than the extract. You can always make it more liquid by adding water. It is perfect to use in drinks to add flavor and decoration.

Despite the differences, caramel extract and syrup share the same rich and nutty flavor. The downside to using the syrup is that you should add a generous amount of syrup to achieve a stronger flavor. However, using too much syrup risks adding volume to the batter. Consider this when deciding whether the taste or the consistency is more important to you for a given recipe.

2. Caramel Liqueur

Liqueurs and extracts are made the same way, by steeping caramel into alcohol with different caramel-to-alcohol ratios. The extract has a much higher concentration of alcohol and flavoring and less sugar than a liqueur.

Most often, vodka is the alcohol of choice for caramel liqueur because: 

  • It tastes neutral
  • Is colorless 
  • Contains 40% alcohol by volume 

However, you should not worry about consuming alcohol because most of it will evaporate. If you wish to include a more potent flavor by keeping the alcohol as much as possible, add the liqueur toward the end of the preparation process. 

The liqueur replacement will work incredibly well in drinks or pastries because of the subtle flavoring. You can use it as a one-for-one substitute for caramel extract. However, adding too much liqueur can reduce the liquid-to-solids ratio and affect the cake’s texture.

3. Vanilla Liqueur

Extracts are comprised mainly of alcohol, around 35-40%. The liqueur is also a sweet, flavorful alcoholic drink. Therefore, using a vanilla-infused spirit to replace the extract is a good idea.

Vanilla and caramel are like two sides of the same coin. They both taste sweet and warm. Vanilla liqueur only lacks the toasty note of the caramel’s burnt sugar. It might be best to replace caramel extract with vanilla liqueur in drinks and cocktails. Its vanilla flavor might be too mild to mix in your batter.

4. Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce is made like syrup with some dairy products such as cream, butter, or milk in addition to sugar and water. The caramelization process gives the smokey note, but the Maillard reaction that occurs because of the presence of milk and butter gives it a unique brown color and rich flavor. 

To replace caramel extract with sauce, you should make adjustments to its texture. Add some water to make it easier to dissolve into the batter or the drink. It will lend the perfect caramel flavor to your dessert. Using caramel sauce is a good idea because it is sweet, liquid, and has a strong taste. 

5. Caramel Flavoring

The only thing more concentrated than the caramel extract is the caramel flavoring. It is sweeter than the extract. Therefore, use it gently and always try for flavor before adding too much.

The flavoring is alcohol-based, the same as the extract. The difference is in the ingredients, which in flavoring might be artificial, unlike the extract ones. It may not be the healthiest replacement, but the sweets will have a similar consistency and flavor.

If you go for an oil-based caramel essence, you should know that it is a highly concentrated flavoring. It is not suitable to use in drinks because it is oil. It is also made of synthetic compounds. The extract form has a stronger flavor than the oil-based essence, so you need more of it to achieve the taste that you want in your food.

6. Plain Caramel

Plain caramel is usually made using only white granulated sugar. There are wet and dry variants depending on whether you decide to use water or not. Use butter, cream, and vanilla syrup to make it thick and creamy. To enhance the sweetness, add a pinch of salt.

Using plain caramel to replace caramel extract will produce a mild caramel flavor. The extract’s rich flavor comes from the flavor molecules extracted using alcohol. Plain caramel is not liquid. Therefore it’s hard to dissolve in the batter. 

A glass jar with caramel extract

If there are no other liquid alternatives, you can definitely use plain caramel in your recipe. You will not go wrong if you use a generous amount of caramel. Reduce the amount of plain sugar in the recipe.

7. Caramel Fudge

Think of caramel fudge as a crystallized caramel. It lies somewhere between syrup and caramel. It is more solid and sweeter than syrup but softer than caramel. Its texture is grainy and not as smooth as the other caramel-based candy. 

Although you can easily crush it, it is hard to melt it and mix it in your recipe. Mix it with hot milk or water to make it look like caramel sauce. Because you need to add liquid, reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe. When prepared this way, the fudge will provide the caramel flavor and sweetness to your dessert.

8. Butterscotch

Butterscotch is a confection made with butter and brown sugar with an intense, almost milky flavor and a dark color. It is soft and chewy but far from the liquid consistency of the caramel extract. 

Therefore, you should melt it before adding it to your recipe. The result will not be as flavorful nor nutty as the caramel extract. However, it is readily available in every store and is a cheap replacement. You can make up for the flavor by adding some more sugar or nuts to the recipe mixture.

9. Toffee

If you want to replace caramel extract with toffee, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, toffee is sweeter than butterscotch because it is simmered for longer. Moreover, toffee is harder than other caramel sweets. Therefore you should find a way to melt this non-crystalline caramel before putting it in your recipe.

Regarding the flavor, toffee is much milder than the extract because its taste hasn’t been extracted into alcohol. It tastes like burnt sugar. However, toffee tastes less nutty than plain caramel because it doesn’t contain cream. 

10. Vanilla Extract

The vanilla extract works perfectly well in recipes that require caramel extracts. It has the same sweetness and nutty note. However, the flavor is milder than the caramel one.

The differences in taste can easily be compensated with the richness of flavor and the similarity of texture. If you choose to put vanilla extract instead of caramel extract, double the amount of vanilla in your recipe. The consistency will not change because both extracts are made the same way and have identical textures.

11. Almond Extract

It is always a good idea to replace one extract with another. Almond extract is quite strong and sweet. Therefore, use half the amount of caramel extract. 

A hint of the almond extract can go a long way. Using too much might overwhelm your dessert or even make it taste bitter. Almond works well with baked sweets, especially chocolate, vanilla, or cherry flavors.

If you have some Amaretto in your liquor cabinet, you might use it instead of almond extract. They contain the same ingredients and aroma. Amaretto also contains less alcohol than the extract. This Italian liqueur complements any dishes using chocolate.

12. Maple Syrup

The biggest downside to caramel extract is that you cannot easily find it in grocery stores. If you are looking for a replacement always in store, maple syrup is your choice. It is almost a staple ingredient in every household. 

Although it is not caramel-based, it has a nutty burnt flavor. Moreover, it also naturally contains vanillin resulting in a sweet taste with hints of caramel. The maple syrup texture won’t disturb your recipe by being either too thick or too liquid. You can use it in a 1:1 ratio, making it the perfect replacement for caramel extract.

Another benefit we shouldn’t overlook is its health properties. Maple syrup is by far healthier than any caramel extract or sugary replacement. It is high in antioxidants and minerals. You can enjoy your sweet dessert without feeling guilty.

13. Maple Extract

Maple extract is another alternative to caramel extract. It tastes stronger than maple syrup. To make maple extract, you begin with concentrated maple syrup and infuse it into alcohol.

The alcohol infusion makes the flavor stand out. You can use maple extract in a 1:1 ratio, and the flavor will be buttery and sweet. Maple extract can be used in baked goods, but also ice cream. Don’t hesitate to use it with oatmeal–it will give it a strong caramel kick!

14. Butter Extract

Since butter is one of the common ingredients used in making caramel, it is no wonder why butter extract could replace caramel extract. Like all extracts, butter extract can be made using only butter and alcohol. It is free of fat and lactose. Only the rich and warm flavor of butter remains infused in alcohol. 

Add the extract to your cookies, cakes, or other baked goods in the same ratio as you would use caramel extract. The texture will not change, and the confection will have an enhanced taste. Combine it with vanilla sugar or any other vanilla product you may have. It will replace caramel extract perfectly.

A spoon dipping into a bowl of butter extract

15. Date Syrup

The last and probably most surprising caramel extract substitute is date syrup. It is a much healthier alternative to any caramel-based ingredient. Moreover, it is naturally caramel-flavored with hints of vanilla.

Dates replace white sugar perfectly in terms of taste. They don’t contain saturated fats and have a low glycemic index while being even more sugary than caramel. The final product may not taste as you first imagined, but rest assured that your dessert will be extra delicious and healthy.

You can mix date syrup in your dough or batter. Another excellent option for using date syrup is to drizzle it over your pancakes, waffles, or French toast. For an extra nutty flavor, add almonds to your recipe if possible. Almonds make the caramel note in date syrup stand out. 

What Tastes Similar To Caramel?

Toffee and butterscotch taste similarly to caramel. Toffee has a smokey note, while butterscotch is milkier than caramel. The slight differences in taste come from brown sugar and dairy products in toffee and butterscotch. 

Is There Such a Thing As Caramel Extract?

There is such a thing as caramel extract. It is made the same way as all other food extracts–by using a base to steep all the flavor into a concentrated form. You can steep nuts, fruit, vanilla, and caramel into alcohol to bring out the flavor. There are no limits to the ingredients you can use.

What Is in Caramel Extract?

The caramel extract contains roughly 40% alcohol, little sugar, and highly concentrated caramel flavoring. The alcohol will evaporate when heated, leaving the intense flavor and sweetness behind. Because it is so concentrated, you should use no more than a teaspoon for your recipe.

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For more, don’t miss 5 Best Substitutes for Brown Sugar in Cookies.